Monday, February 17, 2014

When I am a Mom...

“When I am a Mom. . .” I had these thoughts frequently before actually becoming a parent. Frank and I planned for the wee ones’ arrival and had all sorts of conversations about what kind of parents we were going to be. I planned birthday parties in my head, holiday celebrations, and soon to be newly formed family traditions. Once the girls arrived, everything seemed to fall into place. We balanced the blending of three cultures-French, Chinese, and American with a schedule discussed in advance. We hosted a fantastic Thanksgiving with a homemade turkey and twelve other expats. We had a Christmas with a family card done not only in advance, but actually mailed out. We celebrated Easter-with American and French traditions upheld, Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s day, Chinese New Year, Dr. Seuss Day, Halloween, National Adoption Month, the girls’ birthdays, the list goes on and on. This year however, reality has slapped me in the face. XO’s party went off without a hitch, National Adoption Month was hardly a blip on the radar, Christmas barely was pulled off and poor Sagey’s birthday was only celebrated with us and the girls, while I’m still hoping to do something for Lantern Festival-perhaps next weekend. . .

Enter Valentine’s Day. Last year we made these awesome conversation heart cookies. They turned out fabulous-not only did they look good, but tasted amazing.The mess was kept to a minimum and each girl had exactly one cookie apiece-it was perfect. This year did not proceed as planned. I received an amazing note (written at 4:30 am as it is the only free time we seem to have) from the hubby which was the best present a girl could have received. Other than that, Valentine’s Day came and went with hardly a notice as all energies were focused on the girls (fyi, two two-year olds running around is a lot!). On Sunday, I decided we had to do something after all, “When I am a Mom .. . “ kept replaying through my mind. So, friends were invited and a quick run to the store for supplies was made. The cookies would not be as colorful as last year, and we didn’t have enough heart cookie cutters for all involved, but darn it all, we would have cookies. Everyone was set up around the table and then it happened. . .the kids wanted to make their own cookies with no assistance of any kind. 

The batter wasn’t laid out at ¼ inch, the cookies weren’t cut all the way around-the colors were even mixed together, oh and two heart cookie cutters I did have. . .well, let’s just say they weren’t the favorite. So this year we had heart cookies, star cookies, snail cookies (which I all along thought were whale cookies), star of David cookies, letter cookies, and even a braided cookie. They were nothing like I had planned and yet, they were perfect.

As our friends were leaving, I was holding a plate of cookies. My daughter ran up and asked for one-I told her they were for her friends. The next thing I know, she’s at my feet with a rickety three legged stool. Upon reminding her that the cookies were not for her and besides, that stool with only three legs wasn’t the safest thing to climb on, she nodded yes and quickly ran off. A few seconds later, she returned with a much sturdier step stool and a hopeful gleam in her eyes. She was so happy with herself and her ingenuity, with her imperfect lop-sided cookies, her day with her friends. For her, Valentine’s Day -or two days later- was not only a day where she got to make her own cookies with her favorite people and discover the joys of finding the proper tool to help with a task, but it was a day that I will remember because it is the first day I’ve seen my girls in this light. It was the day that I stepped back and allowed my girls to take control and make the “holiday” be whatever it was for them.

Once they went to bed, I had one of their cookies. It tasted the same as the ones last year, but this year, I smiled and let go a little. This reminded me, “When I am a Mom I am going to allow my girls to take risks. When I am a Mom, I am going to encourage them to think for themselves. When I am a Mom I am going to allow them to be whoever it is they are. When I am a Mom I am going to let them be messy and at times, fall down. When I am a Mom, I will let my girls make whatever shape cookies they want and I’ll eat them with a smile and a full heart.”

Friday, February 7, 2014


This morning, a dusting of snow greeted us as we descended the stairs. The girls looked out of the windows and tried to make meaning of the white covering on familiar objects in the yard. The early morning darkness slowly gave way to grey skies but the snow kept falling. We had to get out!

Sage's first snowball

Just before the car came a honking at us. Get outta the street!

The snow was a dry, fine powder. It continued to fall as we played. They experimented with taking off their gloves, their boots and catching flakes with their tongue. At the end, a couple of chilled but happy girls came in for a pot of hot chocolate to warm up. Yay snow!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bath Tub Art

This year's Chinese New Year break has been a bit of a sad affair for the McGowan family. Either a vicious flu monster came through the house or a series of different viruses kept knocking at the door. The result is that we spent most of the time sick or recovering. The order of miserably sick to healthy was Sage, Krista, Frank then Xian (she barely slowed for a moment though had a momentary bout with an elevated fever). As such, our plans for getting out and spending days in Beijing did not materialize and we occupied ourselves with different activities at or around the home. It's amazing how tiring a short walk can be when saddled with the flu devil.

One fun activity was to dump the girls into the tub with different colors of paint. It ended a bit on the slippery side but the girls enjoyed getting colorful.

Curious in the beginning - Seriously, bath tubs are where we end the day and lots of water is put in. Slowly but tentatively, they began to dabble in the bright colors.

Starting to mix it up!

A couple of hard slips ended the experience but a temporary, collaborative work of art was produced!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dry, dry, dry

Photo from our backyard? Fortunately, no. We snapped this image a few years ago while on a great exploration of the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southeastern Oregon - more photos! The lake bed had been dry for quite some time but it's a good image of how things feel in Beijing. It is dry!

After the constant wet factor of Taiwan, the dryness is welcome though a bit extreme. Lotion, lotion, lotion has become a mantra and I'm one who has always "forgotten" to lube up for the day. With all of their cracks and crevices, my hands are too scary for a photo. The girls can get quite dry as well. Poor XO gets huge patches on her arms and legs that can quickly appear with little warning.

This is our table. When the movers arrived with it from Taiwan in September, close inspection was needed to tell that there are separate pieces of wood on the top. Now, the crack threatens to take someone's food and elevator it down to the floor. I can't remember the last time we saw rain or even a hint of it. Clear and cold it is!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Six months in the land of Airpocalypse

Just over a year ago, two big events happened for us: 1) Krista and I signed contracts to move our family to Beijing. 2) We then watched the world media coin the term Airpocalypse to describe conditions in Beijing. Conditions were so bad that buildings disappeared into the haze. One day they were there and the next... Needless to say, we were a bit worried. Freaked out could possibly be a better term. Well, we've been here for six months and so far, so good.

On many days, we've been treated to blue skies like the photograph from our outing to Beihai Park. Sure, we have had a few bad air days and they aren't much fun. At the moment, we equate them to horrible weather days. We stay in and hope that cabin fever stays at bay. Fortunately, those days have been rare and in fact the only cancellation I had during soccer season was due to rain (past years have seen poor air day cancellations).

We check the numbers. Constantly.

At the moment, we are in one of those rare instances. For the two previous days, the air has been bad though readings of 189, 200 or even 250 are nowhere near the airpocalype values from last year. Over 150 and the kiddos begin sporting masks.

They are pretty good on wearing them - maybe it is because the need has been so little over the past six months that it's a novelty. They actually get a little excited. Woohoo! Masks! I'm always surprised at the number of people who don't wear any kind of filter on heavy air days. The thing about living in Beijing is that there is no longer any mystery. The AQI numbers are published on an hourly basis and it's up to us all to take measures to protect our respiratory systems.  That's been the hidden plus in being in Beijing. The dirty secret is that if you live in Asia, you are going to be exposed to a lot of bad air. (Not all people are fortunate enough to have conditions constantly monitored.) Nope, Beijing is not the worst though the publicity made it seem that way. Due to the publicity we came prepared to improve conditions as best as we can. Air purifiers are in our home. These machines run constantly during poor air episodes and we breath great air at home. Our school did an amazing job working out a campus wide purification system. The AQI inside the building is record low all the time. I get better air inside the building in Beijing than at school in Portland.

Last night, the AQI reading bounced around 200 (image above). Tonight, here is the reading - as a comparison I checked Portland's AQI and it is 107 (Unhealthy level). Did I ever check while living in Portland? Nope - why would I? Just like living in other parts of Asia - if it's not talked about then people don't think about it...

So, what happened to make the air in Beijing magically better? As you can see, the air began rapidly improving in quality around 10:00 this morning. Here is part of the answer...

The arrows show the direction that the wind is blowing from. For the past few days, the wind has blown from the south (02h above). The south is where all the crud -whoa! that's an informal word for PM2.5. Okay, okay, we're talking about tiny particles in the air, known as particulate matter, mostly formed from during combustion but also including dust blown into the air - comes from. When the wind blows from the south, we get bad air. A lot of heavy industry is to the south of us and the particulates come on up and get stuck against the mountains. In today's case, the wind switched direction between 5 and 11 and by 11:00 am was steadily blowing from the north which resulted in a beautiful yet windy day for us.

The Great Wall winds along the mountain ridges north of Beijing. These same mountains that make the wall so beautiful and amazing help trap particulates in the city. It's when the wind howls from the Wall that the City is scrubbed clean. Fortunately, northerly winds are prevailing this year and it seems as if that's the general trend. The plus side of airpocalypse is that we are ready for poor air and that our school has made clean air a priority. So many Asian (and other places too!) cities have horrible air yet the public is simply not aware. Well, Monday is forecasted for good winds so we're hoping for a nice day. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Looking back over the Year of the Snake

As the last year winds on into memory, it provides good opportunity to look back on what's happened. We are in the middle of a self-imposed travel ban and are starting to feel a bit pent-up. Since the October holiday, we've listened to coworkers detail holiday adventures throughout southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Europe and on and on and on. Our standard line - we're staying here in Beijing. The main reason for this stance on our travels is that it is what has been best for the girls, so let's begin the review of the year with them.

What! They just turned 2? Yep, a year ago they were just figuring out motion on two legs.

We ended 2012 in Thailand with the exciting offer of a new job in Beijing. The winter break had been part vacation and part job seeking expedition. From Thailand, we returned to Taiwan to enjoy the remaining months.

However, during the trip to Thailand we had the awesome visit of my parents who returned with us for several weeks. They left just as the Year of the Snake officially got underway.

Yeah! Help with baby-wrangling is great!
The year picked up its pace as spring time flashed by and the girls continued exploring and finding new ways to drive Mom & Dad insane. By spring break, a bit of relaxation on the beach was called for and we headed south to the Philippines.

Will we ever tire of this photo? You should see the poster size canvas we have!
Soon, the coming move to Beijing started becoming more and more of a reality. We discussed the transportation of Audrey. We met with moving companies. We shuffled papers in order to get visas. (Oh yeah, the girls process was completely different.) We began talking with future coworkers. We tried to wrap things up in Taiwan. tick tock the clock kept on inching forward. We got more and more excited about a trip back to Portland! Woohoo - summer finally arrived and we headed home.

Summer was great. We saw family, reconnected with our wonderful friends, roamed our old neighborhoods, enjoyed tasty brews, and the girls explored the Pacific Northwest.

That silly clock kept on ticking and we again found ourselves buckling in for a flight across the Pacific. Touchdown in Beijing, China. It's honestly felt like a whirlwind since arriving but I think we're at the end of the storm. Audrey rejoined us, school started, we found a house to live in and it was soon winter break. Whew! I guess the year has been a full one.

The photo is from a window in a guard tower along the Great Wall. People ask, "Why blog?" and for us some of the reason is to not look back on our past as if looking out of the window above. So much happened and we hope to capture the events as we move on. It's fun to look back over and remember the little details that stories and other posts bring back.

Our girls are absolutely amazing for us and it is unbelievable how much they have changed in their short lives. In this last year, they have gone from the weeble-wobbles of a beginning walker to the bullish charge of confident toddlers. They have gone from untold piles of diapers slated for the laundry to stopping in the middle of an activity and dashing to the toilet, earning cheers of "Bravo" from sister. They still have the ability to scream at insane pitches yet can also form sentences and express their desires in words. They listen and speak in three languages and it's great to hear the combinations they come up with. (The best so far: I eat. A table (in French). Xie xie translation I want to eat. Let's all go to the table. Thank you.) They are working on independently playing together and giving Mom & Dad a bit of quiet time. All sorts of things are happening!

We're looking on to the Year of the Horse with excitement and wish you all the best as well!

Happy Year of the Horse!

Boom! Boom! Boom! The sounds of fireworks exploding in the new moon sky heralded in the Year of the Horse. What will this year bring? According to a few astrology sites out there, this will be a good and fortunate year. However, be warned that this year is not for the pensive. Make your decisions and make them fast! Take those opportunities! Be impulsive this year and you'll find an engaging and awesome year!  If that's not your cup of tea then take a seat from the fast-paced action of the horse year and wait it out.

New Year Kisses
In our house, celebrations were a bit subdued as the flu makes its rounds but the girls enjoyed getting dressed up in their awesome dresses and opening their hong bao. Chocolate coins brought instant smiles.